An interesting observation about the retail GeForce 8800 GTS cards from a couple of vendors concerns the clock speeds of the core and memory. Officially, NVIDIA specifies a core clock of 500MHz and a memory clock of 1600MHz DDR for the GeForce 8800 GTS. However, what we saw on the MSI NX8800GTS-T2D640E-HD using the new NVIDIA Control Panel was a core clock of 513MHz and 1584MHz DDR for the memory. MSI themselves have confirmed that these frequencies are correct and will be found on all its retail GeForce 8800 GTS. Furthermore, it appears not to be just an isolated case as other retail versions we tested from Leadtek and XFX all came with the same clocks as the MSI. At this moment, we are uncertain whether this minor discrepancy is prevalent but you should take this in account when going through the benchmark results later.
Besides that slight difference in clock speeds, the MSI card is as standard as any other GeForce 8800 GTS cards available in retail now. This means that it is a 'crippled' GeForce 8800 GTX, in the sense that the 128 stream processors on the GTX has been cut down to 96 and their internal clocks downgraded to 1200MHz from 1350MHz. Other differences include a reduced number of ROPs, a 320-bit memory bus instead of 384-bit and perhaps most crucially for enthusiasts with moderate power supplies, a lower TDP rating which requires only one power connector.
Newly launched graphics cards, especially a new architecture like the GeForce 8 series are likely to follow closely to the reference design and the MSI does so too. However this time round, we feel that the reference design would be here to stay due to the complexity of design of the GeForce 8800 series. As such NVIDIA has its contract manufacturers to produce the cards and sells the reference designs to all its add-in-card partners. Examining the card, the large cooler that takes up an expansion slot and that basically means that the NVIDIA's new cards now resemble some of ATI's dual slot solutions. Fortunately, the fan is extremely quiet and we initially got startled when the fan failed to spin up immediately on bootup. Turns out that it only kicks in a few seconds after powering on, though we couldn't really tell the difference, due to its silent operation.
The numerous 1.1ns memory chips on the MSI NX8800GTS-T2D640E-HD are all cooled through the giant heatsink aided by thick thermal pads. Underneath the cooler, there is a separate secondary core (called the NVIO, probably short for NVIDIA Input Output) that probably handles everything related to display, like TMDS display logic. It has dual 400MHz RAMDACs and likely contains the cryptographic ROM keys for true HDCP support. NVIDIA probably found the G80 core getting too huge for its size and decided it was better to separate the TMDS components. By decoupling the display component from the rendering core, it may allow for the possibility that SLI configurations could drive multiple displays in the future, something that is impossible at the moment. Don't get ideas yet, as it's just our possible assumption. At the moment, NVIDIA has no further comments on the full capabilities.
MSI has also included some new in-house applications to enhance your experience with its products. New to the usual suspects like MSI Vivid and its Live Update tool is MSI's Dual Core Center, which looks to be your standard monitoring and tweak utility. It allows users to monitor their system temperatures and change the frequencies for supported MSI products like graphics and motherboards through a Windows based user interface.
There have been many variations of such tools from MSI, including previous ones like the CoreCell 3D. This time, the new Dual Core Center integrates the CoreCell control features of their motherboard and graphics cards into one unified interface. It also requires you to install Microsoft's .Net framework before you can even start installing the actual program, a lengthy step that incidentally reminds us of ATI's Catalyst Control Panel. Also, for the MSI NX8800GTS-T2D640E-HD, the D.O.T portion (Dynamic Overclocking Technology) was not usable, because MSI does not support it yet for this card and since we were not using a MSI motherboard, the tweak options for the motherboard settings were naturally grayed out and unavailable. In short, the MSI Dual Core Center is a tweak utility that works best if you're going MSI the entire way.
The other new application is MSI StarOSD, which apparently seems to be a tool to monitor and change your graphics and system settings in-game. One could activate the tool within PC games using a hot-key combination (default is Ctrl-O but you can change it) and make the necessary changes using other predefined hot-keys. Again, it's a useful little program for some gamers though it's not exactly revolutionary nor a must-have. Some of the possibilities with the Star OSD could be to manipulate display settings in-game such as brightness, sharpness and contrast if your in-game menu lacks some of these handy options. You can even activate one of the Vivid profiles if you fancy them. Also, should you encounter a very GPU intensive spot while gaming and wish you could inch up the clock speeds to give you that edge for a more fluent experience, just bring up the StarOSD and crank up the D.O.T settings or clock frequencies and you can game on! Yet another handy use is for overclocking on-the-run. The StarOSD is essentially a very user-friendly tool intent on giving the end-user a better gaming experience and not having the hassle to grapple these settings the traditional way. All these new additions to MSI's suite of proprietary programs are expected to ship with all its new GeForce 8 graphics cards.
Finally, the bundle from MSI was could have been renewed along with the new hardware and utilities on this new series. Its Star DVD Family suite of applications is as good as ever, though the single game, Serious Sam II, should have been updated to better showcase the processing prowess for such a high-end card. Meanwhile, the accessories are adequate and are listed as follows: